Within a week of going to Alert Level 3, five men lost their lives in three separate incidents on the Manukau Harbour.
On Saturday 9 October, the first weekend after L4 ended, a diver was reported missing off Cornwallis Beach at 8.25am. The conditions at the time were strong swells and the usual currents near the Manukau Heads. Emergency services responded and the Police and Westpac Rescue helicopters conducted a search. Eventually at 10am they found the missing diver who was deceased. The Police have referred the death to the coroner.
The next day, Sunday 10 October, people in Hillsborough were shocked to see the Police and Westpac Rescue helicopters searching the harbour at low level in front of their houses. Dr Anup Chand was fishing at the Kingswood Reserve when he noticed a pink outrigger canoe mid channel. He saw a person in the water being carried in one direction by the current, while the craft got blown in the opposite direction by the strong winds. The occupant had a flashing light in his hand but then he disappeared. A woman near Dr Chand on the reserve called 111. A body was winched from the harbour by helicopter at 2.40pm. Dr Chand was deeply affected by witnessing the tragedy, but being powerless to personally help.
The man has since been named as Kafoa Hala Latu. His friends called him the ‘Ultimate Waterman’ and ‘King Kafoa' for his achievements in outrigger canoeing. He had moved to Auckland from Tonga aged 8. He won a scholarship to Auckland Boys Grammar and played rugby. From that he got a contract with the Manly Sea Eagles. Kafoa then moved to the USA to play NFL football with the San Francisco 49ers, but a knee injury ended his career in that sport.
Kafoa then pivoted to outrigger canoeing as a way to help Tongan youth in Hawaii. His crew competed very successfully in both the Molokai and Queen Lili Races. He has coached many groups in the USA and NZ, turning amateur paddlers into medallists. Over the years, Kafoa had rescued many others from the waves, said his partner, Katherine Williams.
The tragic events on the Manukau continued following weekend on 16th October, when a boat flipped crossing the Manukau bar. Other boaties came to assist, but three men drowned. They were Niveth Boutsady, aged 70, Mongkhon Wongmongkhon, aged 61, and Udom Roopsom, aged 54. A fourth man, aged 23, was airlifted to hospital and has since recovered. The boat sank, but lifejackets and debris were recovered from the area.
According to the Coastguard there were as many boats out as could be expected at the height of summer. Police thanked those members of the public who offered their assistance at the scene. The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has launched an inquiry into a boating tragedy.